The aftermath of a car accident is often emotionally and mentally overwhelming, especially when compounded by physical injuries. If you’ve been involved in an auto collision and your expenses exceed your insurance coverage, you may have some recourse in a lawsuit against the at-fault parties. However, before you begin the lawsuit process, you should understand the legal components of liability and negligence in Utah. Working with a qualified personal injury attorney enables you to make a wise decision about moving forward with a lawsuit after your car accident.
Determining Liability in a Car Accident
When you’ve been in a car accident, your first step should be contacting the authorities for medical assistance and documenting the circumstances of the accident. Notably, according to Utah Code section 41-6a-401.7, drivers in an accident “shall immediately and by the quickest means of communication available” contact the police. From that point, the authorities will investigate the accident to assign degrees of fault to the parties involved.
Legal Definition of Negligence
In the event of an auto collision, one or more of the parties may be guilty of negligence that contributed to the accident. Negligence is failing to behave in a way that prevents harm to another party. In other words, negligence occurs when someone either acts in a harmful way or fails to take action that prevents injury to another person or property. Therefore, negligence in a car accident usually means:
- The at-fault party owed the injured party a duty of care.
- The at-fault party breached the duty of care through negligence.
- The negligence directly caused the injury or property damage.
Suppose the authorities determine that the other party is at-fault for the accident and your damages will exceed your insurance coverage limits. In that case, you and your lawyer may decide to pursue legal action.
Modified Comparative Negligence in Utah
Utah is a modified comparative negligence state. This rule means that while you can recover excess medical and property damages in a lawsuit, you may receive a smaller award due to your contribution to the accident. In Utah, you must be less than 50% responsible for the accident, and your share of the liability reduces your overall compensation.
For example, if the jury decides that your pain and suffering, injuries and other losses total $30,000, but you bear 20% of the responsibility for the accident. Your damages will be reduced by 20%, so your reward is actually $24,000. While there are no empirical standards for determining fault in an auto accident, an experienced attorney can negotiate with claims adjusters and advocate for your rights with judges and juries.
Obtaining Compensation in a Car Accident in Utah
Dealing with insurance agents, claims adjusters and the authorities after an accident can become complicated quickly. Consulting with attorneys about your situation makes the whole process more manageable, as they understand the various standards governing liability and compensation in accident cases in Utah, such as the no-fault rule and damages that exceed your personal injury protection coverage.
No-Fault Rule in Utah
Utah’s no-fault rule states that drivers involved in an accident can receive insurance compensation, regardless of their fault. This compensation comes from PIP insurance, which covers medical expenses from the accident. The no-fault rule doesn’t cover property or non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering.
Personal Injury Protection
Residents of Utah must purchase a minimum of $3,000 in personal injury coverage on top of their standard automobile insurance. This PIP covers medical expenses, lost income, and economic losses. If you have a state-run health insurance policy or Medicare, these programs will cover your expenses. On the other hand, if your medical expenses exceed your coverage limits or your injuries are particularly severe, you can bring a claim against the at-fault party.
In Utah, drivers must have at least $15,000 of property damage liability insurance to pay for damage to another person’s car. Therefore, if the authorities determine that the other driver is at fault for the accident, their insurance will pay for property damages up to the coverage limits. Beyond that amount, your attorney can negotiate for a larger settlement or bring a lawsuit on your behalf if the case meets legal requirements.
Deciding Whether To Bring a Lawsuit
When your medical bills or non-economic damages are beyond the various coverage limits of PIP and liability insurance, you may be considering whether to sue the other driver for compensation. The legal process for pursuing a personal injury lawsuit takes time and can be daunting to non-lawyers. There are a few factors to weigh before moving forward with legal action. The other party’s insurance company may offer a settlement to avoid going to court.
Accepting a Settlement Offer
You and your attorney will determine the value of your case as a range rather than a specific amount. From there, your lawyer will judge the value of pursuing a lawsuit based on several factors, including where the settlement offer falls in your range. If the offer is near the bottom of your range, you’ll need to consider some additional points:
- Additional legal expenses of a lawsuit, like lawyer’s fees
- Time required for dealing with the investigation and legal process
- Your potential comparative negligence and reduction in compensation
Pursuing a Lawsuit
You and your lawyer will discuss whether the insurer’s offer sufficiently meets your expectation for compensation for the accident. Your attorney’s opinion about the value of your case is a crucial point: is it worth taking to trial, or is the settlement the best option? A lawsuit may be on the table if:
- Your injuries or total medical bills meet Utah’s lawsuit threshold.
- Your attorney believes that the insurer won’t improve on its offer.
- Your lawyer believes the potential case is more valuable than the settlement offer.
Lawsuit Limitations in Utah
Utah maintains several statutes of limitations on filing lawsuits against at-fault parties in car accident cases. These limitations vary based on the types of damages you’re pursuing:
- Vehicle and Property Damage: Utah has a three-year deadline for filing a lawsuit for these damages.
- Injury Lawsuits: There’s a four-year time limit on most injury lawsuits for car accidents.
- Wrongful Death: If a loved one was killed in a car accident, their family members have a two-year deadline for filing wrongful death lawsuits.
- Modified Comparative Fault: You may only sue for financial recovery if you’re less than 50% responsible for the accident.
Find Legal Help After Your Accident
Car accidents do more than damage your vehicle: They can disrupt your life in terms of physical harm and mental or emotional exhaustion and distress. Hiring the competent and experienced attorneys at Siegfried and Jensen increases your chances of getting the compensation you deserve after an auto accident. We’ll help you navigate the claims process and determine whether pursuing a lawsuit against the other party is the best decision for your situation. We’re always on your team and can review your case for free 24 hours a day. Then, you can focus on healing while we take care of the paperwork, negotiations and phone calls involved in managing your case. Contact us today, and let us get to work for you.